Why LGBTQ people are leaving places like New York and San Francisco for red-state cities.
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ABC's When We Rise

When Cleve Jones was growing up, he felt different from everyone else.

Living as a gay teenager in Phoenix, Arizona, in the early 1970s was difficult to say the least. His dad, a psychologist, believed that homosexuality was something to be cured. His classmates in gym class bullied him so much, he pretended to have a chronic lung ailment so that he could stay in the library instead of the gym. And at one point, he said, he felt so alone that he considered suicide.

Human rights activist and author of "When We Rise" Cleve Jones in 2009. Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images.


Jones has been a civil rights activist for over 40 years, and he is depicted as one of the main characters in ABC's miniseries "When We Rise."

His experience as a teenager was similar to that of many LGBTQ people at that time. The American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality an "illness" until 1973, and throughout the 1950s and '60s, members of the LGBTQ community risked psychiatric lockup or jail if they were "discovered." They could also be fired from their jobs or lose custody of their children. Bullying and violence was also a common threat they faced.

In the show, Jones' character reads about the burgeoning gay liberation movement in Life magazine and is inspired to seek out the movement. Jones recalls that moment vividly from his own life.

Cleve sees the 1971 Life magazine with an article about the gay liberation movement in the ABC miniseries "When We Rise." Screenshot used with permission.

"This magazine, in a matter of minutes, revealed to me that there were other people like me," Jones said in an NPR interview. "There was a community, and there were places we could live safely. And one of those places was called San Francisco."

So, Jones hitchhiked from Arizona to San Francisco in 1973 to start his new life.

Cleve leaves his family behind in Phoenix to move to San Francisco in the ABC miniseries "When We Rise." Screenshot used with permission.

Many LGBTQ people who moved out of red states to cities in blue states in the '60s and '70s helped shape those cities into the same-sex safe havens that we know them to be today.

Cities like San Francisco and New York were seen as places where the LGBTQ community could go to live as themselves and escape some of the oppression, discrimination, and violence they faced back home.

The 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade and Celebration in front of San Francisco City Hall, which marked the 10th anniversary of the gay rights movement. Photo by Paul Sakuma/AP Photo.

Starting with the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the burgeoning gay rights movement grew inside the cities in places such as the Castro district of San Francisco. There, groups mobilized and spearheaded the fight for their rights over the next several decades.

By 1990, the LGBTQ population was largely concentrated in coastal safe-haven cities, including Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., and, of course, New York and San Francisco.

The 46th annual Gay Pride March on June 26, 2016, in New York City. Photo by Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images.

Today, that trend may be reversing; members of the LGBTQ community are actually leaving those places and moving to smaller, redder cities.

Consumer Affairs analyzed U.S. Census data and Gallup polling information and found that by 2014, large LGBTQ populations had cropped up in red-state cities, including Salt Lake City, Louisville, Norfolk, and Indianapolis. For example, in 1990, only 1% of the Salt Lake City population identified as LGBTQ, but by 2014, that number had grown to 5% — making it the seventh largest LGBTQ urban population in the country.

Economics plays a large role in the trend; the cost to live in many safe-haven cities has skyrocketed. For example, the cost of living in New York City rose by 23% in just five years between 2009 and 2014 while in San Francisco, the median rent price was nearing $4,500 by 2016.  

Meanwhile, numerous smaller cities in red states, including Salt Lake City and Indianapolis, offer shorter commutes, cheaper rent, and less competition for the good-paying jobs.

A pride flag flies in front of the Historic Mormon Temple as part of an LGBTQ protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images.

Progress on LGBTQ issues across the country is another reason for the exodus.

There have been a number of federal actions over the last 15 years to solidify equal rights, including President Barack Obama’s executive order protecting LGBTQ federal workers from discrimination and federal and Supreme Court actions that effectively legalized same-sex marriage across a number of red states, including Arizona, Utah, and Indiana. Several cities have also passed local laws protecting the LGBTQ community, including housing and employment protections and benefits for domestic partners of city employees.

A mother to two lesbian daughters holds a sign while watching the Gay Pride Parade on June 28, 2015, in New York City. Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images.

Of course, there's a long way to go — many cities are hotbeds for legal challenges to LGBTQ rights, and 28 states in the U.S. still lack LGBTQ employment discrimination protections.

Rick Scot moved from West Hollywood and bought a house in a suburb of North Carolina with his husband because of cost. But North Carolina is also the birthplace of a controversial law — House Bill 2 — that prevents cities from enacting their own anti-discrimination laws and restricted transgender bathroom access statewide. The law has yet to be successfully repealed.

"I have friends and colleagues who won’t come here," Scot told the L.A. Times.

For some in the LGBTQ community, living in a red state also offers the opportunity to be involved in bringing about real change at a local level.

Protesters in City Creek Park in Salt Lake City in 2015. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images.

New York City and San Francisco didn’t become gay-friendly cities overnight. Change was gradual and hard-fought — and it happened largely because the activists who lived there demanded it.

That's why in the ABC limited series “When We Rise,” Cleve Jones decides to stay put and fight for gay rights in San Francisco rather than go off to Europe to find a better home with his friend.

Roma and Cleve in the ABC miniseries, "When We Rise." Screenshot used with permission.

And today, LGBTQ activists have the opportunity to drive change in red-state cities that have less friendly laws. Some activists are even calling these cities "the new frontier."

That is why Tyler Curry, who calls himself a "blue-ribbon homosexual in a bright red state," has chosen to stay and live Texas — so that he can help bring about change for everyone. "People’s minds can be changed and victories can be won in each state government, no matter how difficult it may seem," Curry wrote in an editorial on the Advocate. "Twenty years ago, the state and federal rights that we now have were merely pipe dreams, but our community refused to let hate beat out hope."

He continued, "Today, we still need to be steadfast in our commitment to LGBT rights across the country, and that means staying put in our red states and demanding respect."

Watch the full trailer for ABC's "When We Rise," which begins Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

This article originally appeared on 12.03.19


Madeleine Albright once said, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." It turns out that might actually be a hell on Earth, because women just do better when they have other women to rely on, and there's research that backs it up.

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that women who have a strong circle of friends are more likely to get executive positions with higher pay. "Women who were in the top quartile of centrality and had a female-dominated inner circle of 1-3 women landed leadership positions that were 2.5 times higher in authority and pay than those of their female peers lacking this combination," Brian Uzzi writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Part of the reason why women with strong women backing them up are more successful is because they can turn to their tribe for advice. Women have to face different challenges than men, such as unconscious bias, and being able to turn to other women who have had similar experiences can help you navigate a difficult situation. It's like having a road map for your goals.

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